Updated: Feb 28, 2022
I'm sure some of you are starting your first internship. This internship is important because it is your first window to knowing the industry that you're venturing into, building connections with specialists in that field, and discovering your passion and interest in this area of work. So how does one prepare for it?
In this article, I will be sharing with you the 5-principle approach to kick starting your internship journey. This approach is formulated based on what our trainees are trained on and what they are learning to do. This approach has the potential to grow further, you may use it as a skeleton and build yours up according to your own experience and industry.
So without further ado, here's the 5-principle approach to starting a meaningful learning journey:
Expect less, communicate more. We all have expectations and they are shaped by our past experiences. If you did not have any prior internship, you will likely shape your expectations based on your learning in classroom, more so if your internship is a curriculum requirement. However, many hiring managers are simply too occupied with their business-as-usual that they do not have time to prepare a framework for your internship. You will be given Ad hoc duties, errands or even reading/editing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).
If you are expecting a structured learning, you might find yourself disappointed and demoralized by the fourth week of internship and give up on it entirely. Hence, it is imperative that you manage your expectations. Expect less spoon-feeding, be it in learning or in tasks allocated. Identify and understand the value that you can add to the team. In many corporations, the link between the older generations (Gen X and above) and the younger generations (Millennial and beyond) can be very weak. The intern can be a valuable asset to the firm when it comes to bringing in new ideas and know-how.
Understanding that prime position you are in, communicate with your supervisor. Have a regular catch up with him or her, show him/her your ideas, the skills you have that can aid the team, and your learning objectives for the week. Show that you are capable of taking charge of your own learning and be a productive asset to the team. But then you'll ask, "How do I know what I can contribute, what can I learn?" Here comes the second principle.
Size up your environment by "FTPT" (firm, team, project, task). Logically, when you travel to a new place, you will first try to familiarize yourself with the sign posts, the streets, the bus stations and people around you. Similarly, knowing what makes up your internship is very important. Understand the firm culture and organizational structure. Know your team and their individual specialization. Look into the projects that your supervisor is currently undertaking - the nature of the project (process-based, research or business development etc), the underlying (technology, product, market) and the prerequisite knowledge - and the tasks you are given (the skills required, the deliverables, and its role in the bigger project). For the things that you lack, you may want to commit some time to understand them or acquire the skills. To add value, you may keep yourself up to date with the development in the industry, the underlying technology and the trends in the markets of interest. But to do all these, you need to...
Be like sponge! Because truthfully, your main objective should be to learn as much as possible. This includes self-initiated learning. Always think of what you can learn that is related to the field you are in. There are plenty of skills that can be widely applicable, regardless which industry you are in. For example: Excel advance formula (create a dynamic spreadsheet), VBA programming (useful for process automation on Excel), Database knowledge and Microsoft Access (useful for creating databases), Python Programming (useful for data analytics), PowerPoint and Adobe Photoshop (for presentations). For engineering specific internships, I will highly recommend you to know the basics of Lean-Sigma methodology (Basic 6s, TIMWOOD, DMAIC and charts in process management etc) and Statistical Process Control. Knowledge is strength! The more you know, the more familiar you are with the context, the better you can make sense of your working environment.
Connect like hell! Other than learning, one important goal in an internship is to build networks. As the cliche goes, "no man is an island", you need people. If you are outstanding, your reputation will precede you and everyone will know you. But let's be honest, if everyone is outstanding, who then really is outstanding? The point here is that regardless how good you are, you have to communicate well and make an impression for people to remember you. By making connections, especially the senior management, you can size your environment better and get the resources you need for your learning faster. You might be afraid to speak out but ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? The worst is probably making yourself a fool in front of important people. To avoid this worst case scenario, try to know more about the person before meeting him/her. Maybe through a colleague, your supervisor or LinkedIn (LinkedIn is a really good tool when it comes to this). Understand what this person does, and think how would his or her superior assess him/her. You will then know what is close to heart to that person and initiate meaningful discussions. Always remember this, "your network is your net-worth". After achieving all these, here comes the final punch.
Immortalize your learning. As mentioned above, most hiring managers do not have the time to create a framework or to produce resources for the interns. So here comes the opportunity for you to contribute! By documenting your learning well, your masterpiece can be used as learning resources for the intern in line. More importantly, the resources you produce bear your name, it will create a lasting impression.
I hope this 5-principle approach gives you a good idea of what to expect in an internship and what you could do to make the best out of it. For any questions or any suggestions to add on to this principle-based approach, feel free to connect with us at Yusudi.